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Paid parental leave wanted for both genders, Americans say

Posted July 14

Paid parental leave for both genders isn't as available as many would like it to be, and it's risen in notice to the point of being a campaign issue. (Deseret Photo)

Few people are able to take paid family leave, but many of both genders would like to. And it’s something for which Americans are showing increased interest.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s website noted that only 12 percent of private sector workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employer, and many cannot afford to take unpaid leave to care for a family member.

How important is paid parental leave? In a recent study on self-identified parental happiness the U.S. ranked 22nd among industrialized nations, according to a press release from Baylor University, and the study authors said the lack of paid leave for parents could be one reason why.

The study also found that the U.S. has the largest happiness gap between parents and non-parents.

The full report won’t be released until September, but in the press release, co-researcher and assistant professor of sociology Matthew Andersson pointed to a “relative lack of workplace ‘packages’ of policies such as paid sick time, paid vacation, flexible work hours and paid maternal or parental leave.”

Countries where workplace benefits, including paid parental leave, were mandated by the government or the industry had smaller happiness gaps between parents and non-parents.

The study found that unexpected births or larger families were “relatively unimportant” when it came to parental happiness.

The subject of paid parental leave is becoming a campaign topic, according to The Brookings Institute, likely in response to Americans expressing high amounts of support for paid leave, regardless of political party, according to polls

Those polled expressed more support for paid maternity leave than paid paternity leave, Brookings noted, although half of the respondents supported equal leave for both.

“Mothers and fathers both need help balancing paid work and family life,” Richard Reeves wrote for the Brookings report.

And paid paternity leave is just as important as paid maternity leave, despite the fact parental leave tends to be framed as an issue for women, according to the Department of Labor. Paid paternal leave means more bonding between a father and child, better outcomes for the children, and can even bring about more gender equality in duties at work and home, it added.

And if the leave can last several weeks or even months, all the better – most fathers take about 10 days or less of leave, the department noted.

Bloomberg noted that fathers often don't take paternal leave even when it’s available, afraid it will be seen as “a lack of commitment,” and that it will “jeopardize their position.”

These are not unfounded fears, Bloomberg noted, as women have historically seen lower wages or been passed up for promotions for taking time off to raise their children and are seen as “distracted” workers rather than “responsible.”

Still, there’s evidence that fathers taking paternal leave are increasing, with the number using California’s paid family leave up from 17 percent to 26 percent over the last 5 years, according to the Department of Labor.

"What I'd like to see is we encourage both our men and women to take it, where it is OK for both genders to take generous parental leave," Deepa Purushothaman, the head of Deloitte's Women Initiative, told Bloomberg. "It's something as a culture we need to stress and make easier to do."

Contact the reporter at smanderson@deseretnews.com; Or follow her on Twitter at @Sarahsonofander.

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